STATEMENT OF
THE FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION
OF THE UNITED NATIONS (FAO)

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is particularly pleased to address UNISPACE III on this occasion, not least because it presents an opportunity to share with you FAO's strategy, policy, programmes and activities on space applications for agriculture and sustainable development, and illustrates FAO's continued interest in and commitment to the development of space technology applications to agriculture, forestry and fisheries development, with particular emphasis on developing countries.

FAOs mandate, since 1945, has been to raise levels of nutrition and standards of living, to improve agricultural productivity, and to better the conditions of rural population. Today, FAO is the largest autonomous specialized agency within the United Nations System with 175 Member Countries and the European Union as a Member Organization.

A specific priority of the Organization is promoting and supporting sustainable agriculture and rural development, a long-term strategy for the conservation and management of natural resources. It aims to meet the needs of both present and future generations through programmes that do not degrade the environment and are technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable.

In November 1996, FAO convened the first World Food Summit (VYTS) which resulted in a comprehensive WFS Action Plan, aiming at reducing the present number of malnourished people in the world by half, by the year 2015. One of the Action Plan's key instruments is the FAO Special Programme on Food Security (SPFS), which draws its defined overall objective of improving food security in low-income food deficit countries from the UNCED Agenda 2 1, which was unanimously adopted at the Rio Summit in June 1992.

Currently, FAO is developing a Strategic Framework 2000-2015 to guide the work of the Organization in the medium and longer term. With an overarching mission of helping build a food-secure world for present and future generations the Organization will, in the next 15 years, give priority to assisting member countries to: eradicate food insecurity and rural poverty, ensure an enabling policy and regulatory framework for food and agriculture, fisheries and forestry, secure a sustainable increase in the supply and availability of food, conserve and enhance the natural resource base, and generate knowledge on all aspects of food and agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Accordingly, five corporate strategies under which rest twelve inter-disciplinary strategic objectives have been identified. The principles underlying the approach taken in formulating and implementing the strategy are: interdisciplinary approach to address multi-sectoral issues through mobilisation of contributions from all relevant disciplines within the Organization, and partnership, among FAO units at Headquarters and in the decentralized offices, and with governments, other organizations and civil society.

FAO attaches great importance to space technology applications. In the early 1970s, FAO introduced remote sensing technologies in its projects and programmes when the Organization formally created a Remote Sensing Unit. In 1980, following a recommendation from the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), endorsed by the UN General Assembly, the FAO Remote Sensing Centre was formally established with responsibility for remote sensing applied to renewable natural resources within the United Nations System

Within the mandate of its Regular and Field Programmes, FAO has developed a wide variety of activities in which remote sensing, GIS and communication technologies presently play an integral and key role.

In the field of environmental monitoring, since 1988 FAO has operated the Africa Real Time Environmental Monitoring Information System (ARTEMIS) in the context of its Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) on Food and Agriculture and the Emergency Centre for Locust Operations (ECLO), based on the use of Meteosat, NOAA-AVHRR, SPOT-4 VEGETATION and GMS data. ARTEMIS data is being operationally used at the regional and national levels in the countries of the Southern Africa region through cooperation with SADC and other partners.

FAO operates the AFRICOVER project which aims to establish a digital land-cover database for selected sub-regions in Africa and which has been operational since 1995 in the East Africa region. Through the project, a land cover classification system and related natural resources databases were developed by FAO and disseminated for wider use by the Member States.

Together with the World Bank, FAO is implementing a regional project in Central Africa, named the Regional Environmental Information Management Project (REIMP). This project aims at improving and strengthening the planning and management of natural resources in the countries of the Congo Basin by providing various stakeholders with appropriate environmental information.

In cooperation with a number of partners and with financial support from the European Union, FAO designed an Integrated Coastal Assessment and Monitoring System (ICAMS). ICAMS will support the management of coastal area ecosystems through the monitoring of water quality and coastal resources distribution and usage parameters from multiple earth observation data such as satellite data from SeaWIFS and future ENVISAT sensors and in situ measurements.

Following the successful completion of Phases I and II of the FAO/USAID project on the monitoring, forecasting and simulation of the Nile River, FAO is implementing Phase III of the project during 1997-99 to assist the Government of Egypt in consolidating the results achieved in the earlier phases. Phase III of this project will further consolidate the Nile River Monitoring and Forecasting System; the related control/decision support system has been approved and implementation commenced in 1998.

The 1990 Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) project executed by FAO demonstrated that, with the help of remote sensing, information on changes in forest and land use could be obtained on a global basis in a cost-effective, timely and statistically sound manner. FAO is currently preparing for a global forest resource assessment for the year 2000 (FRA 2000) that will make intensive use of remote sensing and GIS, ranging from coarse resolution global coverage for land cover mapping to high and very high resolution multi-date satellite imagery for surveying global and regional forest/land cover changes.

Together with the Government of the Netherlands, FAO is developing the Forest Assessment and Monitoring Environment (FAME) Concept. This programme aims at defining, developing and implementing a dedicated operational end-to-end satellite remote sensing capacity for providing real-time access to appropriate spatial data for supporting sustainable forest management at the sub-national level.

FAD has a long history of involvement with climate related activities through cooperation with WMO. Currently, the main activities on agroclimatic databases and agrometeorology, using data both from satellite and in situ observations, include: (i) management of the climatic database for about 25,000 stations world-wide (FAOCLIM); (ii) production of digital maps (at various levels) based on the climatic database; (iii) compilation of a database of African sub-national crop statistics (AGDAT); (iv) real-time monitoring of food crop conditions and yield forecasting, in particular for African countries; (v) fulfilment of specific requests which require the analysis of climatic data to be integrated with socio-economic variables. Together with ARTEMIS, AGROMET is providing essential value-added analysis and related information products for FAO's operational early warning on food and agriculture.

Through its Environment and Natural Resources Service (SDRN) in the Sustainable Development Department, FAO is actively promoting the operational use of remote sensing and related information technology in both its normative and field programmes, developing new methodologies for using space technology in environmental monitoring and disaster impact assessment, and natural resources management and conservation in the context of sustainable agriculture and rural development of its Member States. FAO/SDRN is currently backstopping some 65 projects that have remote sensing, GIS and information management components in more than 50 Member States.

Within its Strategic Framework, FAO has given high priority to developing partnerships with interested international organizations, UN agencies and governmental institutions for the development of information bases and decision support tools to address the needs in the implementation of Agenda 21 and international environmental agreements and conventions, such as the conventions on biological diversity, desertification and climate change.

FAO, jointly with ICSU, UNEP, UNESCO and WMO, is a founding member of the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) and hosts the secretariat of GTOS. The central mission of GTOS is to provide policy makers, resource managers and researchers with decision support tools and access to the data needed to detect, quantify, locate, understand and warn of changes (especially reductions) in the capacity of terrestrial ecosystems to support sustainable development.

As a major user of the Earth observation data, FAO has been participating, as an associate member, in the work of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS). FAO is also working closely with other partners within the United Nations system and other international organizations on the development of an Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS). In this capacity, FAO has played a key role in the organization of the International Forum on IGOS at this Conference.

FAO is also developing active partnerships with the European Union, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, ESA, EUMETSAT, NASA and NOAA on the development of new methodologies and operational use of new data sources with a view to improving its information services, enhancing national capacity building and to broaden the group of users. FAO is also developing cooperation with interested educational institutions with the objective of responding to training needs of developing countries in relation to natural resources management and environmental monitoring, and distance education. FAO is also actively involved in helping Member States strengthen their capacity to develop distance leaming programmes, using various means including satellite communications systems. FAO provides technical advice to Member States in establishing distance education centres and developing course programmes.

Preparing for the new millennium, the FAO Strategic Framework 2000-2015 will, inter alia, stress "improving data availability and information exchange, monitoring, assessing and analyzing the global state of food and nutrition, agriculture, fisheries and forestry, and promoting a central place for food security and international agenda. It has been prioritized that a comprehensive, current and reliable set of data be disseminated to all Members and be accessible to the international community and the public at large".

Increasingly involved in information and communication technologies applications, FAO is progressively moving towards the information age by developing a World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT) and various corporate digital spatial databases including the development of various environmental decision support tools. Today, through worldwide networking, FAO is expanding the outreaches of its services to help Member States to design and implement national policies and strategies using new and emerging science and technology for sustainable agricultural development. The FAO information infrastructure and services will no doubt significantly improve the accessibility of data and information for decision making by various stakeholders, and greatly contribute to awareness creation among various end-users, as well as participation from and consultation with international organizations, national governments and the various stakeholders on a wide range of sustainability issues.

In this context, FAO welcomes the holding of UNISPACE III and supports the adoption of the Vienna Declaration on Space and Human Development. In close partnership and cooperation with Member States and all interested international organizations, as well as concerned partners, FAO confirms its full commitment to take an active part in assisting Member States in the implementation of the recommendations of UNISPACE III to be adopted by the Conference, in the context of food security and sustainable agricultural development.

Thank you.